Remaining Vigilant For Freedom
(December 24, 2009)
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHARANA, Afghanistan, Dec. 23, 2009 –
As our families and friends back home celebrate the
holidays, those of us on the ground in Afghanistan are
continuing the fight against extremism. Because our enemy is
relentless, we must also be as relentless. We know that in
war, there are no holidays.
For the “Houn' Dawgs” of the Missouri National Guard's 203rd
Engineer Battalion, to which I am attached, our operational
tempo will remain high. Our combat logistics personnel will
still be out on Afghanistan's dangerous roads, delivering
critically needed fuel and other supplies to regional
forward and combat operating bases.
They will be accompanied by their brothers and sisters in
arms who will be manning the route-clearance packages, whose
mission is to clear those same dangerous roads of improvised
explosive devices and defend against ambushes and small-arms
fire. Their schedule will carry them through Christmas and,
most likely, New Year's Day as well.
But the combat engineers of the 203rd won't be the only unit
still in action. So many others – military and civilian
alike – still have responsibilities that don't end because
of a date on the calendar.
Guard towers must still be manned, and medical care still
provided. Mail delivery – so important, especially during
this time of year – must go on.
Troops must be fed, and latrines, showers and common areas
will still need to be kept clean and functioning. Laundry
facilities must remain operational, and other basic base
services such as security and flight operations continue.
Also, training – which is so important to overall readiness
– will continue unabated.
When troops are fortunate enough to have a few hours of
leisure time, they will use it in various ways. Some will
celebrate the holidays in small groups, opening presents and
packages sent thousands of miles to them by friends and
family back home who are trying their best to give us a
taste of the holiday season and some semblance of normalcy
in this foreign land. Others will simply spend time alone,
in solace and reflection, thankful to get a few moments'
peace. Still others will catch up on sleep, on laundry, on
writing letters and e-mails, and other personal business.
Some will be preparing for their inevitable next mission.
Not all is lost in the foggy pace of war. Soldiers are doing
what they can to add their own touch of home to the season.
In the chow halls and tactical operations centers, in the
office hallways and post exchanges, in the mine-resistant,
armor-protected vehicles and on the doors of living quarters
there are signs of the season and expressions of faith.
Strings of lights – even on blacked-out bases – have popped
up, and sparkling trees, tinsel, bulbs and streamers can be
seen wherever I go.
In the morale, welfare and recreation centers, personnel
wait patiently for a telephone or computer so they can
communicate with wives, husbands, children, mothers,
fathers, brothers and sisters a world away. Seasonal
programming, along with the customary sporting events for
this time of year, filters through televisions via the
American Forces Network. There is foosball and pingpong,
popcorn and card games.
And though we worry about how our loved ones are managing
back home – even as they worry about us – we are
strengthened in the knowledge that while this may be our
lives right now, it will not be our lives forever. Someday –
sooner for some, longer for others – we are secure in the
knowledge that we will return to that “other world”
thousands of miles away to embrace our families and friends
and resume our lives in peace.
Still, there are sacrifices. For me, personally, I will miss
the tradition of going to Mass prior to getting together
with my family on Christmas Eve to share stories, laughs and
memories. I will miss the dinner Christmas Day with my
extended family. And I will miss, especially, spending time
with my small grandchildren, who I am sure do not fully
understand why Grandpa isn't able to be with them this year.
I will miss counting down the moments until the New Year
with friends, and I will miss the sense of community I
always get this time of year from the people of my hometown
of Jefferson City, Mo.
I will miss things that, I am sure, many other serving
military personnel also are going to miss. But that's what
is good about traditions -- they don't vanish when there are
loved ones who remain behind to carry them on in our
Despite our temporary hardships, for now our families and
friends continue to depend on us to keep them safe and to do
our part to protect our country against hate, extremism and
terror. We know they understand, as we do, that while we
would prefer to be back home sharing gifts and smiles, our
presence here and throughout the world is necessary as a
bulwark against violence and terror, in order to maintain
the freedom and security all of them have come to expect.
That we could possibly bring such freedom and security to a
people who have never known it makes this journey – and
those who support us in it – that much more special this
By Army Sgt. Jon E. Dougherty
Missouri National Guard's 203rd Engineer Battalion
American Forces Press Service
Comment on this article